In being a foodie, I have come to expect weird looks from family and friends when half of my vacation photos are of meat cases and pastry cabinets from places traveled rather than the prototypical “look Ma, I’m here” portraits in front of famous buildings and historical roads. A shot of a vat of dough at Boudin in San Francisco or the Cute Gardener’s palm holding a Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich overlooking Twin Peaks become personal reminders of the places we’ve been.
But it’s also a testament to the way we eat when we travel, seeking out local favorites and dishes that fly under the radar of the normal tourist books yet receive high ratings on websites like Yelp and Zagat. We tend to do our research, hoping to uncover a famous deli case as if it were a rare bird. This has caused us to discover many great things that become noteworthy and occasionally those things that completely flop. And when we find ourselves returning to a place a second time that’s not in our hometown or immediate environs, we know we’ve hit Eureka.
One of these jackpots sits in Santa Barbara on our way to and from Los Angeles in the neighborhood just off the periphery of the Urban Wine Trail. Metropulos is a tiny deli located on a bustling, sunny corner in a frilly Santa Barbara style building where you can find an assortment of Greek delights, wine, cheese, and epicurean items for picnics and wine tastings. But the main reason we go there is for the homemade moussaka that sits in a small pan of perhaps only eight pieces each morning waiting to be sliced and cut on a first come first serve basis.
A Balkan and Mediterranean classic kin to Italian lasagna or the American mid-west, family feeding casserole, it’s a layered morsel that consists of ground beef spiced with hints of nutmeg, onion and other earthy delights, mashed potatoes and a decadent béchamel sauce laid across the top that is browned in the broiler. A slice of comfort food that is both savory and then sweet, it’s the perfect thing to buy and share after a wine-soaked weekend or to start a day of sightseeing. We picked up a slice to take back home on our last trip so that we wouldn’t have to worry about cooking when coming off of a trip.
Metropulos is the real deal and although we prefer the moussaka there are other indigenous treats served daily like spanikopita and dolmas alongside traditional charcuterie and gourmet items.